Tag Archives: twelve days baking challenge

{5} Canistrelli

One place that has firmly stood outside of my past festive baking efforts has been France. I’ve only featured one recipe – chocolate, fruit and nut mendiants that form part of the tradition of the 13 desserts in Provence (calm down – this is not 13 actual separate miniature desserts, it includes items like fresh fruit and nuts).  There are, of course, lots and lots of delicious things that the French enjoy at Christmas, including the famous bûche de noël (perhaps a bit too much work for me unless I am making it for a very, very special occasion) and various sweet treats such as candied chestnuts, and the various buttery biscuits that comprise the brederle of Alsace. But I’ve just not found that many French cookies to feature.

Well, today we break that trend. I’ve made canistrelli cookies from Corsica which are made with white wine and flavoured with anise, and they can also include almonds or chestnut flour. I’m not entirely sure that these are a Christmas cookie per se, as they are eaten all year round on their home turf, but I like the recipe, it is a contrast to some of the other things I’m making this year, and they also looked quite easy. Sometimes I like to make things that are complex, and sometimes I’m lazy. And look at the pictures? Those diamond shapes form giant snowflakes!


I don’t know if it is a sign of age, but I increasingly appreciate the flavour of anise. I was not such a fan when I was younger, but I find it a nice alternative to gingerbread spices, chocolate or citrus. It still seems festive but doesn’t have the ubiquity of other flavours of the season. Perhaps it is a sign of an increasingly sophisticated palate, or perhaps it is no longer drinking dodgy liqueurs like sambuca with wild abandon? We can only surmise.

Anyway, to our guest cookies. Canistrelli are reminiscent of Italian biscotti in the sense they are a crispy and crunchy cookie but they are much easier to make than their Italian cousins. No need to roll a log, bake it, slice it and bake it again. You just mix up a quick dough, shape it and bake it. Then just accept that as the dough is quite soft, they will inevitably have a somewhat rustic look, and if that worries you, drink some of the same wine you used to make the cookies and you’ll feel better.


When making these cookies, the method seemed very familiar to me – it is essentially a recipe for making little scones (of “biscuits” if you’re American) as you’re pouring liquid into the dry ingredients, then working quickly with a fairly soft mixture. However you’re not looking for a soft, pillow-like bake which is still fluffy on the inside. You bake them for a longer time so that they turn golden and start to dry out. As you can see, I did not worry too much about the shaping beyond getting pretty rough approximation of a diamond shape using a fluted cutter (actually a Play-Doh tool that I had washed quite intensively!). You can also do this with a knife, and go for any shape you want – squares, longer logs, or even circles if you want to go for the looks-like-a-scone-but-is-rock-hard approach and indulge in some festive trickery. You will just have to adapt the baking time so that they get enough time to properly dry out and harden in the oven.


If you’re keen on some anise action, I can share a little tip. I ended up making these twice, as they vanished pretty quickly. The first batch used just anise liqueur, and for the second I also added some crushed aniseed. The seeds really help give a stronger flavour, especially after you’ve stored them for a few days, whereas the liqueur on its own is a much milder affair.

But if that’s not your thing you can play around by adding lemon or orange zest, roughly chopped almonds or raisins. I think anything that you could imagine being grown and harvested on a warm, sunny island in the middle of the sea would work well. You could even add some chocolate chips if that’s your thing. You’re starting to stray rather far from the Corsican flavours but hey, things move on, and even the most traditional of recipes were new and experimental once upon a time!

For the wine, you want a dry white. Canistrelli should not be very sweet, and in any event they are sprinkled with sugar. However if you don’t want to use wine, you can use water or a mixture of fruit juice and water, which would make them a little more child-friendly. I mean, if you’re baking with kids, you want to recipe to be quick and easy to counter short attention spans, but you probably don’t want to be mixing wine in there. Of course, the alcohol will evaporate off during baking, so you don’t need to worry about serving these to little ones even if they didn’t help to make them.

Oh, and that comment I made about the bûche de noël? It might be a lot of work, but I am planning to make one this year, flavoured with pear and chestnut. But it will be at Christmas, hopefully by the time that I’ve done all 12 festive bakes, so it won’t be on here. Sorry!

To make canistrelli (makes around 30)

For the dough

• 275g plain flour
• 100g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 60ml olive oil (not extra-virgin)
• 2 tablespoons anise-flavoured liqueur e.g. pastis, ouzo
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed aniseed or pinch of ground star anis (optional)
• 5 tablespoons white wine

To decorate

• water
• granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl combine the salt, oil, liqueur, vanilla, aniseed/star anise and three tablespoons of white wine. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix with a fork. Add more wine, a tablespoon at a time, until you get a soft but workable dough rather like when making scones (aka “biscuits”).

4. Transfer the mixture to a workstop dusted with flour. Roll out or press to around 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick.

5. Cut out the cookies – use a fluted pastry wheel or a knife to cut strips about 2cm wide, then cut diagonally into diamonds. Don’t worry too much about getting them perfect as you won’t manage!

6. Transfer each piece of dough to the prepared baking sheets, leaving some space for them to expand during baking. Brush or mist with water and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

7. Bake the cookies for around 25-30 minutes until golden, turning half-way to get an even colour if needed. Watch them closely – you might need to reduce the heat by 10 degrees if they are colouring too fast. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.

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{4} Kletzenbrot

Oh, festive breads. I’ve got a thing about them. You see, we’ve got a bit of a history, and frankly it’s not exactly glorious. To be frank, my success in the past can be described as “mixed” and that’s only if we’re being very charitable.

I can make a decent Italian panettone without any problems, but that’s pretty easy. You just form the dough it into a ball and let it rise. But where I start to struggle is with those loaves that need to be elaborately shaped. I do my best to make they look good, but then during the baking they seem to go crazy, and I struggle in making sure that they’re going to keep their shape after a spell in the oven. Last year I tried making a Dutch duivekater, which should look smooth and bronzed with intricate patterns cut into its surface after a spell in the oven. Well, my attempt ended up looking like something from a barbecue rather than a festive loaf fresh from the oven, with the various cut patterns just serving as new ways for the inside of the loaf to make a break for freedom. It did taste great (lightly sweetened, with lemon and cardamom if you’re curious), but it certainly wasn’t a winner in the looks department. It might feature in 12 Days of Baking one year, but it won’t be this year.

However, I’m not one to let a few past culinary wobbles put me off. Maybe it was just a case of trying a different approach? And this is how I came across a recipe for Kletzenbrot and knew I had to try it.


Kletzenbrot means “pear bread”. The name comes from Kletzen, the Austrian German word for pears. When I learned German back in school, we were taught it was die Birnie for a pear, but hey, different ways in different places, and they do it differently in Austria. Indeed, those crazy Austrians, it’s Schlagobers rather than Schlagsahne, and my personal favourite, Paradiser rather than Tomaten, as tomatoes are thought to resemble red apples of the sort that might have been found in the Garden of Eden. Cute, eh?

I’d describe this loaf as something with has more than a passing resemblance to British mince pies, but in the form of a loaf, and not as sweet. You start off by cooking dried pears until soft, then chop them up and mix them with other dried fruit, nuts and spices. I added a good glug of rum, and what do you know, the whole thing really does smell like Christmas in a bowl. That’s to be expected, as by this stage you’ve essentially made rustic mincemeat. Leave it to rest for a day, then the next day you make a rye dough using the water that the pears were soaked in, work in the fruit, and then pray, I mean pray that after shaping that the loaves will bake as intended. Mixing the dough and the fruit is pretty good fun, as it’s stick and really needs you to get in there with your hands to make sure it is all properly combined.

When looking at different recipes, some recipes suggested just shaping and baking, but I came across one that covered the loaf in a sheet of plain bread dough called a Bladl which seems to be a Bavarian/Austrian term for a leaf or a sheet (like paper). You just take a couple of handfuls of the dough before mixing into the fruit, roll it thin, enjoy the fun of trying to get a piece of not-very-stretchy rye dough to stick to your filling and end up looking vaguely neat. Helpfully the recipe makes two loaves, so you can try with one, make all your mistakes, then nail it on the second one. I think the Bladl step is worth doing – it provides protection for the filling, and it avoids one of my pet hates when baking with dried fruit, which are the over-baked raisins and sultanas peeking out the top, waiting to stab the top of your mouth when you eat them. The names does sound a bit like “bladder” which is good for a bit of cheap humour, but we can overlook that part.


I might be making this sound really easy, and making the fruit and the dough was simple. However the Bladl step actually ended up taking quite a bit of practice since this is a low gluten flour with limited desire to be flexible as compared with strong white flour. I rolled it out a couple of times and tried to lift but it kept breaking. Finally I realised that the way to do it was to roll out the Bladl, then dampen the surface of the shaped fruit loaf with water, then lift the loaf on top of the Bladl. Then it was quite easy (well, easy-ish) to gather the dough up the sides and tidy it up. Then flip it over and transfer back to the baking sheet. The key thing to keep in mind is not to completely envelope the filling. The yeast still has its thing to do, and it will rise a bit when it goes into the oven. If you’ve wrapped it tightly in the Bladl dough, you’ll get some big cracks and splits on the surface. If you’ve just done it on the top and sides, there is enough slack to enable to dough to rise and not look too unsightly. Remember you’re really only doing this to protect the interior, rather than worrying too much about it looking neat, and I can live with discrete cracks on the sides!

So having worked hard to make my Kletzenbrot, how does it taste?  I was actually really pleased with how it turned out. It’s a bit like fruitcake, but far less less sweet, and with a distinct savouriness from the rye bread component. The texture is dense, so it slices very neatly. It is delicious spread with butter (which has to be salted if you ask me) or otherwise eat it with cheese. I loved it with blue cheese, or with a nice sharp cheddar and a dash of chutney on top. If you’re feeling fancy, try to cut it into very thin slices and drying it out in the oven as some sort of very posh cracker for your festive cheeseboard. Traditionally Austrian? No idea. Delicious? For sure!

To make Kletzenbrot (makes 2 loaves)

For the fruit mixture

• 250g dried pears
• 600ml water
• 100g prunes
• 100g sultanas
• 200g dried figs
• 30g candied orange peel
• 30g candied lemon peel
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 60ml rum dark rum
• 125ml apple juice
• 75g whole hazelnuts
• 75g chopped walnuts

For the dough

• 450 g rye flour
• 2 teaspoons dried yeast
• 30 g soft brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice or ground cinnamon

1. Put the dried pears in a saucepan with 600ml cold water. Slowly bring to the boil, the cook gently until the pears are tender (10-15 minutes). Drain and reserve the water. Leave the pears to cool. Keep the water covered in the fridge to use in the bread dough.

2. Chop the cooled pears, prunes and figs into chunks, and finely chop the candied peel. Put everything into a bowl and add the sultanas, spices, nuts, rum and apple juice. Mix well, cover and leave to rest overnight.

3. The next day, make the dough. Put the flour, yeast, sugar, oil and spice in a bowl. Heat the water from soaking the pears in the microwave until lukewarm, and add enough to make a dough. Don’t add it all in one go to avoid the dough being too sticky, but if you use it all and the dough is too dry, just add more water. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, then cover and leave in a warm place to rest for 2 hours. I made the dough, then took the nipper to football and shopping, so it had nearer 3 hours and seemed all the better for it.

4. Time to make the loaves. Remove 2 handfuls of the dough for the Bladl covering. Add the fruit mixture to the remaining dough and mix well with your hands. It’s going to be a very moist mixture, so be prepared for some mess! Then the mixture onto a generously-floured worktop and form the dough into 2 loaves approximately 10 x 20 cm (just shy of 4 x 8 inches).

5. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and rub lightly with vegetable oil.

6. Now make the Bladl. Take one piece of the reserved dough and roll it out thinly until large enough to cover the top and sides of a loaf. Spray or brush the loaf with water, then lift the loaf onto the Bladl. Now bring the dough up the sides of the loaf and trim off any excess, leaving the base exposed. Flip the loaf over, exposed side facing down, and transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with the second loaf.

7. Prick the surface of the loaves with a fork (be as neat or crazy as you like), then brush them with milk.

8. Bake the Kletzenbrote for around 40 minutes. Keep an eye on them – if they look like they are getting too dark, cover loosely with aluminum foil. Tap them to test if they are done – they should sound hollow. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing.

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{3} Pasteles de Gloria

These might have the most amazing name of anything I’ve made – it translates as “glory cakes” which is really promising quite a lot! Sounds like a brag someone might make after working out, no? Anway, these little guys come from Spain, which can be relied on to deliver a delicious array of Christmas goodies. I think this may be to do with the tradition of nuns in monasteries making sweet treats to sell to the local populace, or more likely well-heeled pilgrims.


Last year I made Cordiales de Murcia which are marzipan filled with angel hair pumpkin jam. Glorias are similar and are filled with a thick sweet potato jam with a dash of cinnamon. Making this filling is actually a complete breeze – you’re not really making a jam which must set, but more of a thick paste. You just pop a large sweet potato in the oven, bake it until soft, then scrape out the flesh and cook it with sugar and cinnamon until it is bright orange, thick, very sweet and all in all quite jolly-looking.

It also seems that glorias go by a few names, and a couple of really interesting ones were tetilla de monja and teta de vaca. The latter means cow’s teat and I’ll leave you to guess that the former refers to in the context of nuns(!). You can begin to see why they are generally referred to by their glory cakes moniker.


Making the filling and marzipan is easy, but I must admit that I did find shaping them a little bit tricky, and it took me a couple of attempts to find the best way to do it. In the end, what really worked for me was to find a really small bowl, line it with a piece of plastic film, then put a ball of marzipan in it. I added another piece of cling film, then pressed down so that you get a “cup” shape with the marzipan. Then the cling film slips right off, you can add some filling, and then tease the edges together to seal the gloria. Then you lift the cling film out, gloria still inside, then gather the top and twist. Hey presto – they look neat! I do recommend playing a little bit with the marzipan and perfecting your technique. Once I’d made two or three, I got the knack of it, so don’t worry if the first few are not perfect. They will be dusted with icing sugar, which will reliably cover a multitude of sins!

When it comes to baking, you’re really looking to set the marzipan rather than turn it golden-brown, so do watch them carefully while baking. They will also be quite firm and rather dry, possibly even a little crisp when they come out the oven, but store them in an airtight tin for a couple of days and they will soften up nicely.

To make Pasteles de Gloria (makes 20)

For the filling

• 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes (to give 250g cooked flesh)
• 150g caster sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the marzipan

• 250g ground almonds
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 200g caster sugar
• 2 large egg whites, beaten
• zest of 1/4 lemon

1. Make the filling. Set the oven to 200°C (400°F). Prick the sweet potato, then put in the oven and bake until it is soft. You should be easily insert a knife. This will take 45-60 minutes. When done, remove from the oven, cut the potato in half and scoop out the flesh – you want 250g of cooked sweet potato.

2. Put the cooked sweet potato flesh in a saucepan, and use an immersion blender to make a completely smooth puree. Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix well – it will look a bit more transparent and seem slightly wetter. Cook over a medium heat for around 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until you have a thick paste. Drop a small amount on a plate – it should be fairly firm. Remove from the heat, leave to cool completely, then cover and leave overnight in the fridge.

3. Make the marzipan. 1. Make the marzipan mixture. Combine the ground almonds, almond extract, sugar and lemon zest. Mix well, then add one beaten egg. Mix, and then add enough of the second beaten egg to make a marzipan. It should be soft enough to work with, but not wet or sticky. I used just over half of the second egg. If you add to much egg, just add equal amounts of almonds and sugar to get a texture you can work with.

4. The next day, time to make the pasteles. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

5. Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of the marzipan (or weigh them – mine were 25g each). Flatten the marzipan between two pieces of plastic film, then add about half a teaspoon of the sweet potato filling. Fold the marzipan around the jam, seal, and roll into a ball between your palms.

6. Place the ball on the baking sheet, and repeat until all the marzipan has been used up. You might find you have some filling left.

7. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes – the cookies should look dry on the surface but not browned. Remove from the oven and leave to cool

8. To serve, dust with icing sugar. Don’t go crazy – pasteles de gloria are pretty sweet, so you’re dusting for effect more than anything.

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{2} Mandelhörnchen

Today we’re going to celebrate two of the most traditional flavours – chocolate and almonds! I think they are both delicious, so when I saw these nutty marzipan crescents, I knew I had to give them a go. Not only that, but they were also going to be my entry for our Festive Bake-Off at work (well, assuming that they worked!).

As with my Icelandic jólakaka I don’t really have much history to write about these little treats, other than they are very German and part of the wide range of Christmas baking from that part of the world.


This is a remarkably easy recipe, and I think you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck in terms of amount of effort as compared to the end result. The dough is just a simple marzipan, and you don’t even need to worry about letting it rest for hours in the fridge, which makes this a good recipe if you don’t have masses of time to wait.

But let’s be honest, you’re probably still something of an obsessive perfectionist given you’re in the realm of home-made cookies which involve playing around with a thermometer to temper the chocolate for that perfect shine? On that note, if you’re at a loss as to what to get from Father Christmas in your stocking, ask for a digital food thermometer – it’s brilliant for recipes that need a precise temperature. I used to just guess and hope for the best, which led to variable results, and it makes it easier when working with chocolate or making sweets.


So how did I get on in the competitive baking challenge? I submitted them into the “12 Identical Christmas Bakes” category, and I got good feedback, but did lose out to a colleague’s cranberry and orange spiced cupcakes, which frankly were really good. I guess that’s the thing with marzipan – it is often something people really love or really don’t care for. Hey ho…there is always next year!

If you are minded to give these a try, there is one tip I can share with you. It’s about the flaked almond decoration. Lots of pictures online show perfect cookies with whole flaked almonds on them, and I thought I would try to go for that too, but it ended up being a a complete pain to get them to stick to the marzipan after shaping without falling off. It was a case of each movement or slight puff of wind making yet more of them give up. It turns out that it really is a lot easier to roughly chop the flaked almonds. Then when you roll the marzipan in the nuts the adhere perfectly. I think if you went for smaller, fatter crescents then you would find it easier to get larger pieces of almond to stay put, but I had decided on the shape I wanted, and no bag of nuts was going to determine what I did!


One final thing to watch out for is that these cookies can dry out easily if you don’t keep them stored in a sealed container, which is not brilliant when you really want that tender marzipan texture. However, you can easily fix this by storing them in an airtight container with a slice of bread, which is basically magic and makes them soften up after a day or so, which is helpful if you want to make them in advance. Perhaps for a work baking challenge that you don’t win….!

To make Mandelhörnchen (makes around 20)

For the marzipan:

• 250g icing sugar
• 250g ground almonds
• 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon almond extract

To decorate:

• 150g flaked almonds, roughly chopped
• 1 egg white, beaten

To finish:

• 150g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the even to 160C. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Make the marzipan. Put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a large bowl. Add the almond extract and mix well. Add about two-thirds of the egg white, and mix well. The marzipan will seem dry and crumble, but keep adding more of the egg white until you get a soft marzipan which holds is shape but is not too sticky. If it gets sticky, just add equal amounts of icing sugar and almonds to get the right consistency.

3. Shape the cookies. Take pieces of dough, around 20-25g (yes, I used my electric scales to get exact pieces) and roll into a ball. Roll on a worktop to form a sausage – mine were 15cm. Brush some egg white on a plate, and roll the marzipan on it to get a thin, even coating, then roll it into the chopped flaked almonds. Transfer the baking sheet and form into a crescent shape.

4. Bake the Mandelhörnchen for around 12 minutes until just turning golden. Turn the baking sheet half-way to get an even colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely – they get firmer as they cool.

5. Melt and temper the chocolate. Dip each end of the cookies in the chocolate, transfer to a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave to set.

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{12} Speculaasbrokken

I had grand plans to make something from the Netherlands this year – the duivekater, a Christmas loaf which a long history that even appears in famous artwork from the Dutch Golden Age. Well, you can see from the name of this post that it is not what happened. I did manage to make a duivekater for Christmas day, and it was certainly delicious, but I did it all in something of a rush. So much so that it ended up looking like something that would not have been out of place on cakewrecks rather than being the jolly photogenic festive centrepiece I had in mind. Of course I will give it another go, so I’ve already added it to my list for next year’s baking.

But this leaves me with one bake missing. So what to do? Well, something else, obviously! I’ve reflected on all the complex, intricate things I made this year, and have decided to go in the opposite direction this time. I’ve made speculaasbrokken, which are simple, quick and delicious. You might think that I made something a bit fancy and then dropped it by mistake, but this is what they should look like – the name means “pieces” or “chunks” of speculaas, or Dutch spiced biscuits.


Speculaas cookies is a key part of Christmas in the Netherlands, and you can find the famous “windmill cookies” with their intricate designs formed using wooden moulds, and more simple “spiced nuts” which are rolled into little balls and baked. You can make the special speculaas spice mixture yourself if you have the time and inclination, otherwise you can used mixed spice or pumpkin spice for a similar effect. Whatever you do, make sure you’re pretty generous with the spices!

The method here is really easy. You throw everything in a bowl, make a dough, then chill it, roll it and bake it. Either make one mega-cookie or four smaller ones. After baking, you can either break it into pieces and serve it à la manière rustique but I think there is something quite satisfying and a little bit dramatic about brining it whole to the table and then smashing it in front of your guests. 

To make speculaasbrokken:

• 300g plain white flour
150g unsalted butter
160g dark brown sugar
• 6 teaspoons mixed spices
1/2 teaspoon salt (skip if using salted butter)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cold water
whole or flaked almonds, for decoration

1. Put all the ingredients apart from the water and almonds into a bowl, and work with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to make a soft dough. Wrap in cling film, flatten, and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

3. Roll the dough out to 3/4 cm thickness – you can do it in one large pieces, or make 4 separate pieces. Brush with milk and put almonds on top. If you are using whole almonds, you can make some sort of pattern, or you can use flaked almonds, in which case just sprinkle and press them down.

4. Bake the speculaas for around 45 minutes until it is dark looks evenly cooked. Turn half-way for an even colour.

5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then either break it into pieces to store, or keep it whole and smash it when you have guests for maximum impact.

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{11} Brabanzerl

I’ve always assumed there must be lots and lots of delicious biscuits, cakes and sweets in Austria around Christmas and New Year. I think of those beautiful squares, twinkling with lights and lined with markets. But I must have been doing my research in the wrong way, as for such a long time I just kept finding recipes for crescent-shaped Kipferl  or jam-filled Linzer Augen. They are delicious, but surely there was more?

Well, finally I have managed to find some other sources of inspiration! I came across (and swiftly bought) a German book called Weihnachtsplätzchen by Angelika Schwalber. She features a recipe for Brabanzerl. I would love to be able to say that there is some sort of fascinating history behind them, and there may well be, but I was not able to find out anything. But it does seem that people love them.

These are two pieces of hazelnut and chocolate shortbread, filled with fruity redcurrant jelly, and coated in chocolate. They looked a little complex, but I remembered that I had some jars of redcurrant jelly in the jam drawer that I had made from fruit I grew in the garden. Clearly this was a sign I had to make them! For making jam from your own fruit in central London is rather a big deal, since gardens are generally the size of a postage stamp. The little lad and I were very pleased we managed to get five pounds of fruit from a single bush, and we got five decent jars of ruby-red jelly as our reward.


I will be totally honest – these biscuits are a labour of love. You need to make the dough, which is very soft. It is unusually made with melted chocolate, and it then needs to be chilled so you can work with it, so that means lots of getting to know your fridge really well. Once you’ve made the very fragile shortbread, you fill it with jelly, and then you need to coat them in chocolate. And that chocolate needs to be tempered to get a good snap and that appealing sheen. The recipe I was following suggested dipping them in dark chocolate, then using milk chocolate for decoration, so that means two lots of tempering. I can do it, but it is a bit of a palaver in the kitchen, although I do get a thrill when it works out right. As a testament to how much work they are, I styled a picture of the cookies on a fancy gold plate, with some dried thistles and pine cones I collected in holiday this year in Scotland. I don’t normally add props, but Brabanzerl seem like the sort of festive cookie that deserve some special treatment.


If you are going to make these, I would recommend doing it over several days. I did this and the result was great, and it really would be enough to drive most people to distraction to try to do it all in one go. But they really were worth the effort. The shortbread is soft and crumbly, flavoured beautifully with the hazelnuts and chocolate. Then you have the jammy filling, and here you want a good jam or jelly with a strong, tart flavour. I used redcurrant jelly, but you could also use high-fruit raspberry or blackcurrant jam, or even a tangy marmalade. Apricot might also work it you want a nod to the traditional flavours of the famous Austrian Sachertorte. This fruity filling balances the dark chocolate, and the result is sublime. They look elegant, and taste refined.

I decorated them by doing a series of lines in milk chocolate. For variation, I also tried some swirls which I think looked fine, but the lines definitely look more polished. It was quite an effort. A lot of effort. But these little morsels of festive deliciousness could well have become one of my new festive favourites. Way to go Austria!

To make Brabenzerl (makes around 25)

For the dough

• 50g dark chocolate
• 150g flour
• 50g icing sugar
• salt
• 50g ground hazelnuts
• 150g butter
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

• 150g redcurrant jelly, or another tangy jelly or jam*

For the decoration

• 300g dark chocolate
• around 25 blanched almonds
100g milk chocolate

1. Make the dough. Gently melt the chocolate (use a double boiler or the microwave), then put in a bowl with the other ingredients and quickly knead to a soft dough. It will be very soft and slightly sticky. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest overnight in the fridge.

2. The next day, preheat the oven to 170°C (335°F). Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of greaseproof paper to around 3-4mm. Form the cookies using a scalloped cutter (around 4cm diameter), and transfer to the baking sheets. The will spread slightly, so leave enough space between them. Gather the scraps and chill again in the fridge. Put the cookie trays in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes before baking.

4. Bake the cookies for 8 minutes, turning half-way to get even bake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before transferring to a wire rack – they are very fragile when warm, but will firm up as they cool.

5. Now it is time to fill the Brabanzerl! Melt the redcurrant jelly (or jam) in a saucepan – if using something with seeds, then strain to remove them. Leave to cool slightly so it starts to thicken, then coat half of the biscuits. Sandwich together.

6. Dipping time! Melt and temper the dark chocolate. Dip the top and sides of the Brabanzerl in the chocolate. Transfer to a sheet of greaseproof paper. Press a whole almond into the centre. Next (if you want to and have time) melt and temper the milk chocolate and use this to pipe decorative lines or swirls on the edges of the cookies.

(*) If you are using jam or marmalade rather than jelly, you need 150g after you have removed any seeds and skins. Just melt the jam in a saucepan, then pass through a sieve.

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{10} Krumkaker

I’m a sucker for any recipe that involves a piece of specialist equiptment. Today’s recipe is for Norwegian krumkaker and needs a special waffle iron with an intricate patter to make them. So of course I had to get hold of one!


The name krumkaker literally means “bent cakes” and this is apt, as you make a waffle with a rich batter infused with aromatic cardamom, and when they are cooked, you quickly wrap them around something conical to get their distinctive shape. There is a specialist wooden tool for this, but I used a sugar cone (still in its packaging) I had in the kitchen. I think the curve is supposed to be a bit tighter, but you get the idea.


Now, I have to admit I have a little bit of an advantage here as a first time krumkake-maker. I’ve previously made Italian pizzelle which are similar but smaller wafers that are left flat. When I made pizzelle, I had a real problem with getting the iron to work properly when I made them, so I was fully expecting similar tribulations with krumkaker. I oiled up the hot iron, and waited for the first two attempts to be messy. And I was not disappointed!

I got the exciting task of picking off the dry bits that had stuck to the iron, and again applied oil for attempt number three. And this time it worked like a dream! Perhaps it was just a touch on the dark side, but this was just a matter of getting the temperature and timings right, and from that point I was sailing. The other trick that I had to master was where exactly on the iron the batter had to make contact. The very centre seemed to result in asymmetric wafers, as the batter would be pushed forward and squirt out the front. The answer was to place it a bit further back, then gently close the lid. This would get the batter in the centre when it mattered, and then I could give it all a good squeeze to get a nice, thin and reasonable even wafer.

Once you’ve made the pile o’cones, you can eat them as they are – they are sweet and delicious thanks to that cardamom, and I think they do taste best when they are very fresh. But they can also be filled. If you have kids around, then they will festive ice cream cones if you can handle the pretty high change that they will shatter as they are more fragile that proper cones. The other option is to enjoy them filled with whipped cream and fruit. If want to go properly Nordic, try to find some cloudberry jam, and mix this with whipped cream to make multekrem. Use it to fill your krumkaker for a truly Norwegian experience.

To make Krumkaker (makes around 20 large wafers)

• 200g caster sugar
115g unsalted butter
2 large eggs
240ml whole milk
200g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
vegetable oil, to grease the iron

1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is light and pale yellow. Beat in the cardamom, then add the flour and baking powder, and finally the milk. Whisk until smooth – don’t worry if it looks like it has split. Cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes. When you come back, it should look thicker. Whisk again to make sure it is smooth.

2. Heat a krumkake iron or pizzelle maker on a medium heat (don’t crank it up to full, or the wafers will burn). The iron is ready when a drop of water on top of the closed iron sizzles and quickly evaporates.

3. Open the iron and brush each side very lightly with vegetable oil. Add a tablespoon of batter and close the iron. Cook for 30 seconds on one side, then flip over and cook for another 30 seconds. Check how it is doing, and cook for a little longer if needed. Remove the krumkake from the iron and roll it into a tube or around a cone – do this fast as they will quickly cook and become crisp. Alternatively you can roll them around the handle of a wooden spoon to make a tube.

4. Serve the krumkake as they are, or fill them with whipped cream and fresh fruit. If you are making them in advance, keep them in an airtight container to keep them crisp.

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{9} Parrozzo

A couple of years ago, I made Marquesas de Navidad, some little Spanish Christmas cakes which at first I thought had some ancient pedigree, but which were actually created in the early part of the 20th century. Traditional recipes and classic bakes are great, but I also think it is nice that new things still appear from time to time.

And today is another fairly new kid on the block. This cake is called a Parrozzo. It was created in 1920 by an Italian gentlemen called Luigi d’Amico, who ran a pastry shop in Pescara in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

However Luigi’s idea was actually a modern take on a traditional local recipe called pane rozzo which means “rough bread”. This loaf had a domed shape and a dark colour due to being baked in a hot wood-fired oven. So his sweet Parrozzo kept the domed shape in homage to the source of his inspiration, and the chocolate glaze imitated the dark colour the bread would have gained during baking.


The Parrozzo is actually an almond sponge. It is traditionally flavoured by the judicious use of a few bitter almonds to provide the distinctive flavour. I’ve written already this year about how these can be risky if eaten in quantity, but I’ve taken the lazier route of using normal (sweet) almonds and added some almond extract. Some recipes also use lemon zest, which I’ve opted to use as I think it works very well with almonds, and lifts the flavour of the cake. You could miss out the lemon, or swap it for orange zest if you fancy something a little punchier.

The cake is finished with a simple chocolate glaze, but fret not – you don’t need to worry about tempering chocolate to get a nice sheet, you just melt chocolate with butter, and forget about the science of tempering and getting the right sort of chocolate crystals for a set. It’s Christmas and we’ve all got too many things to get done! You just melt, add butter, stir and pour. Job done!

This makes a fairly large cake, and it looks quite impressive as a centrepiece. I think it benefits from being made a couple of days in advance. The texture is light but not too fluffy, cuts well, and stays moist thanks to the butter, eggs and almonds in the batter. We really enjoyed this one – it tastes festive, but is very different to the fruit and spices of a British Christmas cake.

And as if a chocolate-covered dome cake that is impersonating a loaf of peasant bread is not exciting enough, this cake even has its own song: La Canzone del Parrozzo (the Song of the Parrozzo) written by poet and politician Gabriele D’Annunzio. It is a tango, and reminds me a little of the Italian socialist classic Ciao Bella.

To make a Parrozzo:

For the cake:

• 150g plain flour
• 150g ground almonds (skin on)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 6 large eggs
• 50g butter, melted and cooled
• 250g caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons almond extract
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• zest of 1/2 lemon

For the glaze

• 200g dark chocolate
• 50g unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Prepare the cake mould (I used  20cm /8 inch hemispherical tin). Rub the inside really well with butter then dust liberally with flour. Shake out the excess.

2. Mix the flour, almonds and baking powder. Set aside.

3. Separate the eggs.

4. Beat the egg yolks, sugar, melted butter, almond extract, lemon zest and lemon juice for about 5 minutes until pale, thick and creamy.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, around 4-5 minutes.

6. Folk the yolk mixture into the egg whites.

7. Fold in the flour mixture in 3 batches, as gently as you can until just combined.

8. Carefully pour the batter into a cake tin and bake for around an hour until an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top looks like it is getting too dark cover it loosely with tin foil. When it is ready, remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes, then turn the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

9. Finish with the chocolate glaze. Melt the chocolate in a microwave (or use a bowl over a pan of barely-simmering water) then add the chocolate butter and stir until completely smooth. Pour the glaze over the cold cake, and either try to get it as smooth as possible, or make life easy and aim for generous swirls.

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{8} Broas Castelares

I’ve looked for quite a long time for a Christmas recipe for Portugal. I’ve found ideas galore from Spain and Italy, but for some reason I wasn’t seeing anything from the Lusophere. That is, until now.

I’ve made little sweet potato cakes called broas castelares. The name means “Castile corn breads” and they are named after their creators, the Castelar brothers who ran a bakery called the Confeitaria Francesa, or French Patisserie, in Lisbon. It was founded in 1860 and stood in the Rua do Ouro, or “Street of Gold”, which I think is rather fitting given the colour of these cakes.


Now I say “cakes” but this recipe is a very different way of baking to the festive recipes I have tried before. This is based on sweet potato puree, which I made by roasting some sweet potatoes and scooping out the tender flesh. I thought this would give a better flavour than boiling as it would keep (and perhaps even concentrate) their flavour. Then you mix this with sugar, and the whole lot turns from sort-of-fluffy mash into a gloopy, soupy mass – I’ve seen this before making a Scottish potato-based sweet, and it seems odd that you can add dry sugar to something and it seems to get wetter!

I saw a few different versions of this recipe with different amounts of sugar. These seemed to split into Portuguese recipes and then those from everyone else. The home of Fado makes extremely liberal use of sugar, so I figured that it was safe to assume these little guys were going to be on the sweet side. This expectation was further supported by lots of non-Portuguese bakers trying to cut down the amount of sugar. Choices, choices. In the end, I decided to plump for a more authentic Portuguese version. This is a Christmas sweet after all! The version I went with came from the website of Lisbon City Council. Surely these guys would get it right?


The actual recipe is fascinating – the base is sweet potato (the orange ones, not the white ones) that you turn into a basic jammy paste. Then you mix in eggs, and add a veritable cornucopia of other nice things – ground almonds, cornmeal, coconut and orange zest. Some of the recipes suggested adding cinnamon to taste – I skipped this, but I think this could be a nice addition. You then end up with one of the stickiest doughs I’ve worked with. You leave it to chill overnight, and I thought the dry ingredients would have soaked up some of the liquid and made a thicker dough. I was wrong. The next day, it was slightly thicker but still seemed to be as sticky! But the way to deal with this is to have a plate with some neutral oil on it, and keep your hands well-coated. Any by coated, I mean pressing your palm into it, pretty often as it turned out. Then nothing sticks!

Shaping the broas was easy, provided you are making liberal use of that oil. Take a tablespoon of the mixture, roll to a ball, then form into an oval shape – I noticed that longer, slimmer ovals kept their shape better than shorter, fatter ones. The skinny ones set and keep their shape, the more squat ones seemed to spread more. Then make (or try to make) a little dent in the middle so they look like golden giant coffee beans. They are then finished with an egg yolk glaze, and baked in a hot oven.


And how do they taste? Amazing! I expected something more cake-life and reminiscent of cornbread, albeit sweet, but in fact they are more like marzipan, so I would call them a type of candy rather than a bread or a cake. As I expected, they are extremely sweet – sweet, sweet, sweet! Delicious, but for me this is something you want to eat with strong coffee or tea, rather than with mulled wine unless you’re the sort of person that wants to embrace hyperglycemia. The good thing is you can serve a tray of these and be confident that people will self-police and no-one will scoff the lot.

I hope you like this. I wasn’t sure I would and I am completely convinced. Obrigado e feliz natal!

To make Broas Castelares (makes around 40-45)

For the dough

• 1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes (at least 500g), to yield 400g cooked flesh
• 700g soft brown sugar
• 125g ground almonds
• 50g desiccated coconut
• 125g cornmeal (fine polenta, not corn starch)
• 75g plain flour
• 3 medium eggs
• Zest of 1 orange

To finish

• vegetable oil, for your hands to work the dough
• 2 beaten egg yolks, to glaze
• tablespoon of water

1. Heat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Prick the sweet potato, then put in the oven and bake until it is soft. You should be easily insert a knife. This will take 45-60 minutes. When done, remove from the oven, cut the potato in half and scoop out the flesh – you want 400g of cooked sweet potato.

2. Put the cooked sweet potato flesh in a saucepan, and mash it. Do this manually – if you use a blender it may affect the texture. Add half the sugar and mix – it will look a bit transparent and become wetter. Cook over a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring constantly. It is done when you pull a wooden spoon across the base and leaves a clean trail that holds for a few seconds. Remove from the head and leave to cool to lukewarm.

3. Put the potato mixture in a large bowl. Add the eggs, and mix well. Stir in the remaining sugar, ground almonds, coconut, orange zest, flour and cornmeal. Mix to a smooth batter – it will be thick but sticky. Cover and chill overnight.

4. The next day, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Prepare a few sheets of greaseproof paper and rub each with some vegetable oil.

5. Get your hands covered with vegetable oil, and keep some extra within easy reach to re-coat your hands as needed. Take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Now shape into a long oval between your palms. Place on the greaseproof paper, then flatten and make a dent in the centre so they look a bit like coffee beans. Repeat until the sheet is covered – they will spread slightly so leave at least 5cm between them.

6. Make the glaze – mix the two egg yolks with a tablespoon of cold water, and mix well.

7. Slide the tray under the paper, then glaze the broas. I found it best to do this just before baking, and really get in around the sides and base as this seems to help them keep their shape. Bake for 15 minutes – the top might look mottled and very dark in some places, but this is normal. Leave for a moment to cool and set, then transfer to a wire tray.

Note: the broas are a little crisper on the outside when they are fresh, but will soften if you store them overnight in an airtight container.

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{7} Cordiales de Murcia

I am a big fan of marzipan, so Cordiales de Murcia really caught my eye. They are traditional sweets that originate in the town of Pacheco in Murcia, Spain. Their filling is also a little unusual – cabello de ángel, a sort of pumpkin jam.


The name cabello de ángel means “angel’s hair” and comes from the texture of the pumpkin. When cooked, the flesh of the pumpkin separates into lots and lots of strands. It is turned into jam and flavoured with citrus and sometimes a dash of cinnamon, but the pumpkin keeps quite a bit of its texture, so think of it as being candied more than turning into a jam. I find it tastes a bit like apple jam, maybe with a hint of apricot. I’d had this in pastries on visits to Spain, and it took me a while to work out what the filling was, since it seemed to be apple but wasn’t quite.

Anyway, I had a jar of this stuff in my store cupboard for ages from a trip to Spain last year. I had planned to use then, got everything ready to make these cordiales and then remembered that at the end of summer I had used it all in the based of a quick apple tart. If I was going to make them, I would have to hunt high and low for a pretty niche ingredient, for it turns out that unlike membrillo, manchego or chorizo, you quite quickly find that cabello de ángel is not really stocked anywhere easy.


The Spanish supermarket near Ladbroke Grove was reporting on their website that they had sold out, so I had to trawl a number of websites to find one that, firstly, sold the stuff, and secondly, would be able to deliver it quite quickly. The good news is I managed (even if it meant paying a lot more than I would have had to do if I had been organised!). But if you don’t have cabello de ángel then you could use Spanish sweet potato paste or quince paste, or in fact any sort of very firm jam or fruit paste. You just want to avoid something too liquid, which could melt and pour out of the sweets during baking.


The actual baking process is quite easy – you make marzipan, then work out how to stuff it. The dough is quite soft, so I found the easiest way was to put a piece on some greaseproof paper or cling film, then cover and squash it flat. Then you can add some jam to the middle, and gather the edges up without everything sticking to your fingers. My first few attempts were cake-wrecks, so just do a bit of trial and error and find a method that works for you.

Once you’ve stuffed your cordiales, you need to shape them and it is traditional to place them on a circle of wafer. I normally don’t do this as the brand of greaseproof paper I use never ever sticks to whatever I am baking, and there is enough oil from the almonds to prevent sticking, but I wanted to go traditional here.

Now, I’ve mentioned the effort I went to in order to get that pumpkin jam? Well there were some recipes that suggested using discs of communion wafer, but by this point my commitment to authenticity had fallen asleep by the roadside, so I got hold of some rice paper and cut out circles of that. In fact, this actually worked really well, as you are able to shape them really easily and move them around on their pieces of rice paper (or wafers).

The most important question is, of course, how did they taste? Absolutely delicious. The marzipan has that lovely flavour of almonds and lemon from the zest, and the filling keeps the filling soft and is a little like apricot or even a gentle marmalade. They are slightly crisp when you’ve just baked them, and if you like them softer, just keep them overnight in a sealed container, and they will soften right up. All in all, a lovely addition to the festive table, provided that you’re willing to track down the right sort of filling, and you’ve got the patience for lots of shaping and stuffing!

To make Cordiales de Murcia (makes around 25-30):

• 250g ground almonds
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 200g caster sugar
• 2 medium eggs, beaten
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• 200g cabello de ángel jam

1. Make the marzipan mixture. Combine the ground almonds, almond extract, sugar and lemon zest. Mix well, then add one beaten egg. Mix, and then add enough of the second beaten egg to make a marzipan. It should be soft enough to work with, but not wet or sticky. I used just over half of the second egg. If you add to much egg, just add equal amounts of almonds and sugar to get a texture you can work with.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

3. Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of the marzipan. Flatten between two pieces of greaseproof paper. Add a small teaspoon of the angel hair jam (the size of a small grape). Fold the marzipan around the jam, seal, and roll into a ball.

3. Place the ball on a piece of rice paper, and shape to a slight cone with your fingers. Repeat until all the marzipan has been used up.

4. Bake the cookies for around 20-25 minutes until golden but not dark. Turn the tray half-way to get an even colour. Remove from the oven and leave to cool

5. To serve, dust lightly with icing sugar. Go easy, as these things are sweet, so you’re dusting for effect more than anything.

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